Raising the level of your leadership




"We Are Family"


lyric art we are family-600x600For the four sisters Sledge (Kim, Debbie, Joni and Kathy), it was true and their song reached #1 on the R&B charts in 1979 (I am humming it as I type): “Everyone can see we’re together…close …giving love as a family does…we are family….” I hope this describes your family in an unlimited and unconditional way. But for the organization you lead, “we are family” needs to be limited and conditional.

It is not unusual to hear someone say about their co-workers, “we are like a family.” Sometimes even the boss is included in the family group. When the meaning is we work together, care about each other, and feel like we “belong,” that’s good. But if it begins to mean that we have the same rights, privileges and protections as a family, then sooner or later, it will become a problem.

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, created a lot of nationwide conversation when he made it clear to employees that, “We’re a team, not a family.” There are a lot of differences between teams and families. Participation on a team is conditional, based on one’s contribution to success. Membership in a family is unconditional and permanent, based on birthright. In families, we tend to encourage everyone to do their best. On teams, someone’s best may not be good enough no matter how hard he or she tries.

A leader who fosters a “family atmosphere” is creating expectations that cannot always be fulfilled. Teams improve by constantly upgrading their talent—replacing the quarterback or guitar player when necessary—no matter how hard they try or how “loved” they are. It is both awkward and difficult to replace the quarterback or guitar player if they have been told repeatedly, “you are family.”

The leader’s role is not that of surrogate father or mother of the employees. Coach? Yes. Encourager? Yes. Caring and concerned? Yes. Developer? Yes. Champion? Yes. But not as father or mother and not “no matter what.” For your team to win, you need someone who can actually play center field, not just do her best. So for the good of your team, shed the father or mother image and start leading.

Suspecting that some of you will disagree with me, please contribute to the conversation by posting your comments.

Please forward this to a friend who may be interested.

© Copyright 2013 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

6 responses to “"We Are Family"”

  1. Maurice Painter says:

    So true, Dick. This will become more evident as companies shift from employees to contract specialists, even virtual. Specialists may be hired for projects or for time periods. Consequently, current team leaders need to ensure skill development and confidence of their specialists, preparing them for the future reality. Good counsel, Dick.

    • Dick Wells says:

      Thanks, Maurice.
      Not acting as a parent is a big challenge for some leaders, including me at times.
      I once had an employee do me a favor by telling me I wasn’t responsible for her happiness.
      Duh! Why couldn’t I figure that out on my own.
      See you friday.
      Dick

  2. Matt Austin says:

    Dick,
    Your clarity on this topic is the best I’ve seen. The distinctions between families and teams are stark and important.

    • Dick Wells says:

      Thanks, Matt. I think working with a smaller group like you do makes it more difficult to keep the “we are family” under control.
      Dick

  3. Dusty Rhodes says:

    Excellent Dick. I wonder if this is more of an issue in certain groups more than others. I’m on the board of a church and also serve in a ministry org, and I’ve seen this become a challenge in both scenarios. And yet I’ve heard NFL teams, especially after big victories, talk about how they are a “family.” Or perhaps its not so much tied to the type of org itself, as much as it is what kind of culture and expectations exist in any org established by those org’s leaders.

    • Dick Wells says:

      Dusty, thanks for your comment.
      True about the NFL teams in what they say, but after the season, the team doesn’t hesitate to release players and players don’t hesitate to move on to “better deals.”
      I don’t have all the answers, but leaders need to be careful before they take on the role of father or mother, brother or sister.
      I think you can be caring and concerned without doing that.
      Dick

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